This is a question about the fantasy background of a video game.

In the 1990s, Capcom produced a large number of side-scrolling beat-em-up video games. Many of these had science fiction or fantasy themes, and the most elaborate ones were the Dungeons & Dragons games Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. However, one of my favorites, The King of Dragons, has always puzzled me, because it seems so much like a Dungeons & Dragons game, yet it is not one.

King of the Dragons was released in 1991, two years before the first Capcom game with the Dungeons & Dragons license. Many elements of King of the Dragons hew much more closely to the model of a fantasy RPG than a typical fantasy beat-em-up (such as Knights of the Round, also released by Capcom in 1991). There are character classes (elf, dwarf, cleric, fighter, and wizard); the enemy selection has very few human foes; and points (derived both from collecting treasure and killing enemies) are treated as experience, via which the characters gain levels.

The presence of the elements I just listed could simply be attributed to Capcom wanting to make a game with a Dungeon & Dragons-like flavor. However, there are also a few elements that are clearly taken specifically from D&D. The most obvious is the "Great Draconian" boss. Watch its death here.

Upon its death, the monster first turns to stone, then disintegrates in flames. This is clearly taken from the way that draconians in the DragonLance setting behaved upon death. A Baaz draconian first turns to stone when slain, then subsequently disintegrates; the Bozak draconian, which explodes upon death, may also have been an influence.

There is also a "trent" (using a variant of the "treant" spelling invented for D&D, although the creatures are obviously based on Tolkien's ents).

Trent from The King of Dragons Monster Manual trent

Another example, although only obvious in retrospect, is the appearance of certain monsters. Here, we see the wizard fighting a group of amphibious humanoids with large webbed crests.

Two years later, in Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom, we had these troglodytes.

While there are some differences, there also a lot of similarities, including the creatures' use of tridents and their (extremely annoying) repeated jumping attacks. Most important, the webbed crest, the (A)D&D troglodyte's most notable feature, is there in both cases. Compare the classic trog miniature.

Troglodyte miniature figure

Of course, Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara include many more D&D-specific elements: items, monsters, Vancian magic spells, etc. However, I always wondered how some clear (A)D&D elements ended up in The King of Dragons two years before Capcom starting making D&D-licensed games. Was King of the Dragons originally going to be an official D&D game, but there were some delays with the license? Or were the D&D elements just copied because the game makers liked them? And then how did the copying then affect the making of the later official D&D beat-em-ups?

  • 5
    Every time I see "elf" listed as a character class, a deep voice in my head gravely intones "The elf needs food, badly."
    – DavidW
    May 22 '19 at 3:00
  • 1
    "Elf is about to die."
    – Paul
    May 22 '19 at 10:10
  • Given that both ripped off Tolkien, wouldn't it be easier to ask "how did they all get away with ripping off Tolkien so badly?"
    – Valorum
    May 23 '19 at 18:08
  • @Valorum Two things: 1) The draconians and crested trogs are D&D originals. 2) I already know the history of D&D vis-a-vis Tolkien.
    – Buzz
    May 23 '19 at 21:47
  • I don't think you're wrong. But none of the things you've highlighted are actionable in a legal sense. They're just variations on a generic fantasy trope theme
    – Valorum
    May 23 '19 at 21:49

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